Hampden Academy English teacher Kristin Leithiser talks about the school's new Corral program, which she helped start with principal Bill Tracy and RSU 22 curriculum coordinator Mary Giard. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Most of Hampden Academy’s approximately 800 students have been glad to return to full-time in-person learning this school year. But a handful of students who thrived while all learning was remote have struggled to transition back to learning in the classroom.

Hampden Academy hopes to reach those students with its new Corral program, which would allow them to continue with remote learning and other activities tailored to their strengths and interests. While they would spend their time learning remotely outside of the classroom, they would also meet weekly with a teacher for one-on-one support, participate in a range of activities such as field trips with other program participants and have the chance to complete internships and job shadows.

Hampden Academy Principal Bill Tracy talks about the school’s new Corral program, which it is starting with a $100k grant the school was awarded to institute the pilot program. The program would allow a small group of students to engage in individualized and remote learning plans.  Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The program addresses one challenge schools in Maine and nationwide have encountered as they’ve resumed fully in-person operations this school year.

The Corral program launches this fall with the help of a $100,000 award from the Maine Department of Education through the state agency’s Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures project. That statewide project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, which awarded Maine a grant of almost $17 million.

Principal Bill Tracy, English teacher Kristin Leithiser and RSU 22 curriculum coordinator Mary Giard are spearheading the pilot program at Hampden Academy after attending training at the University of Maine’s Foster Center for Innovation. They modeled the program after similar ones in Brewer and RSU 25 in Bucksport.

“We recognize that students have struggled in a variety of ways,” Tracy said.

Hampden Academy Principal Bill Tracy talks about the school’s new Corral program, which will allow a small group of students to engage in individualized and remote learning plans. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Students who succeeded with remote learning have felt disconnected from their peers, and they have struggled with adhering to classroom rules and schedules after returning to school.

The Corral program would provide flexibility in offering students both in-person and online learning options, along with one-on-one support, Tracy said.

He anticipates that 12 to 15 students will participate. The program will admit applicants who have demonstrated a degree of self-motivation and can be trusted to direct their own studies.

“They have to have the desire, to want to be a self-propelling unit, and to be independent,” Tracy said.

The ideal participant would be someone “who’s got that energy to say, ‘I don’t know what I want to do yet, but I want to do something, and I need to figure out what interests me, whether it’s work or military or school,’” Giard said.

Students would have the opportunity to engage in adult education classes, work opportunities such as internships and team-building exercises like monthly field trips, Leithiser said.

RSU 22 curriculum coordinator Mary Giard helped start the pilot program at Hampden Academy. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Hampden Academy plans to use the grant to hire a program coordinator, as well as to cover the costs of field trips and transporting students to internships and job-shadowing sessions. The coordinator will act as a kind of case manager to ensure that students are staying on track with their self-set goals and engaging with other program participants.

One of the most important points would be to ensure that Corral program students have a community even as they’re engaged in independent work, Giard said.

The grant runs through the 2022-23 school year.

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Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.